Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh, and a Meme

I figure if I post twice in one day, I can skip posting tomorrow, so why the hell not: A meme borrowed from Flavia and Ph.D. Me:

The Book Meme

1. One book that changed your life? Oh, God. Hmmm. Let me start off by saying that, to keep this interesting, I will exclude Shakespeare from all of my answers. Those of you familiar with the BBC Radio program 'Desert Island Disks' know that its premise is that one can only take a certain number of songs/albums to a desert island, as well as one book--and that, with regards to the latter, the producers finally gave in and said that the guest could take one book in addition to the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, because everyone kept giving those as answers. Wise move. So--let's see. Don Quixote comes to mind. An argument about true goodness and how it so often appears as folly to those who cannot see beyond their own cynicism, which they mistake for wisdom. It's a lesson that sank in, and sank in deep. When I'm forced to do the right thing, and know that I'll look like an idiot for doing so--driving back several miles to return the excessive change that a cashier gave me--I feel like a fool, but I know that somewhere Don Quixote is smiling. And I do it with a lighter heart.

2. One book you have read more than once? There are several of these. Lolita, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island (reread it--you'll be surprised how good it remains), The Count of Monte Cristo--I could go on. One? Paradise Lost. Because it needs to be reread and reread and reread and it gets better every time. Samuel Johnson famously said that "Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions." Here, as in so many other matters of his literary criticism, Johnson, though a genius is his own right, was about a wrong as is humanly possible.

3. One book you would want on a desert island? I think that this is one where people might make the worst error--they probably think that to take something 'deep' and 'challenging' is the thing to do. This is a mistake. You're on a desert island--you're going to want beach reading. But good beach reading--beach reading with enough meat on it to make you think and laugh and reflect. But not to have to drag yourself back to. Do not bring Finnegan's Wake or Gravity's Rainbow. For me, this is easy: The Count of Monte Cristo--it's hella long (and thus can sustain lengthy rereadings), and fascinating, and exciting, and a visceral pleasure to read. Plus a profound meditation on the nature of justice and mercy. No question, here.

4. One book that made you laugh? Well, I laughed plenty at The DaVinci Code, The Bridges of Madison County, and everything that Brett Easton Ellis ever wrote, but I assume this prompt wants a book that made me laugh on purpose: in which case, Tom Jones. Fielding is a comic genius, and if you read this book and don't laugh often and hard, there's something wrong with you.

5. One book that made you cry? Oy. Um, hmm. Not much of a crier. But, and this will sound weird, I can think of one distinctly where I wept: The Pickwick Papers. The good and kind and too-virtuous-for-the-world Mr. Pickwick is convicted in court of Breach of Promise, and refuses to pay the judgment because he is innocent and cannot, in good conscience, participate in an injustice. So he is sent to debtor's prison--a dreadful place, to be sure. His servant, loyal and street-smart and very funny Sam Weller (I laughed a lot at this book, too), demands to go with him--he's afraid that Pickwick will get eaten alive in prison--but Pickwick, good and kind, refuses to let him, promising to keep him on salary so long as he's in prison, so Sam needn't worry about money. Sam persists--Pickwick refuses. So Sam does something very clever--he goes to his father, and asks to borrow money from him--a trifling amount--the old man gives him the money. Then Sam asks his father to demand the money. The old man--knowing what's going on--does so. Sam refuses to pay, so the old man quickly takes him to the prison and has him locked up for failure to pay--and Sam rejoins Pickwick. When they meet, Pickwick realizes what Sam has done out of love for his master. He cries, and so did I--all throughout. A beautiful moment--I love Dickens for such moments.

6. One book you wish had been written? A complete version of Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood--what the f***ing f*** happened, Charles? God damn you for dying like that. F***in' prick.

7. One book you wish had never been written? Again, many people make the wrong call here: Mein Kampf is a popular choice, or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--but such nominations are wrong-headed if kind-hearted. Such books are, in the long wrong, good things--because they identify the evil men and women of the world so clearly. They show us who the monsters are, and show us how they think. (Ann Coulter, anyone?) When evil reveals itself, good has more tools with which to fight it. No, I like the fact that such books exist, though I hate the fact that they have to. For me, something like Paul's Epistles, which codified and ossified and ultimately corrupted the nature of Christian identity and Christian love seem to me to have been much more detrimental to the state of mankind. To tell people that there's only one way to be good is a hurtful and, I think, ultimately wicked thing. Virtue is in many ways simple--the Golden Rule really does sum it up--but it's also terribly subjective, and telling people that Not F***ing = Being Good is crap. Paul angers me as few other men have; I wish that some other early Christian writer had been collected and included in the NT--I really do. (Apologies for the blasphemous nature of this answer--rest assured, my damnation is a given.)

8. One book you are currently reading? The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. Which is in no way connected with that piece-of-s*** Tom Cruise movie. (A phrase that is becoming more and more of a redundancy, I'm sorry to say.)

9. One book you have been meaning to read? Well, Ive been meaning to finish Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. My God, but it's long...brilliant, but long. And life is hectic and short...Still, one shouldn't shy from such things, I suppose. Just as soon as I finish watching this porno, I'll get right on it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to nail down a book or two that have changed my life. Don't they all, more or less by definition? Still, two books that I think about often in my daily life would be Ken Follett's _The Pillars of the Earth_, and Tolkien's _The Silmarillion_. Sneer if you will about Medieval fixations, but it's the treatment of the subject matter that concerns me. Follett seems to understand his characters uncommonly well, and portrays people of a millenium ago in ways that are accessible to our modern viewpoint. The bad and the good all possess a plausible mix of strengths and weaknesses, and their successes and failures flow directly from these characteristics. The uncomfortable realization that I have much in common with the two main antagonists of the story has led me to make real changes in my life. On the other hand, Tolkien does not seem to understand his characters very well, at least not the women. However, he has a knack for predicting the tactical and strategic implications of various fantasy tropes that many imitators manifestly lack. Also, the man's use of language is masterful. As a result, he is able to charge his battles with a sense of drama that has rarely been equalled in real life, perhaps Thermopylae and Operation Barbarossa being the main exceptions.

10:31 AM  

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